National is rejecting claims it failed to act when an airbag found in 50,000 Kiwi cars was found to be faulty.
A recall has been issued for vehicles with faulty Alpha-type Takata airbags, and more than 250,000 others will undergo "intensive monitoring".
Vehicles with the faulty airbags, which could send shrapnel flying into passengers' faces, will soon be banned from importation.
The faults were discovered in 2013.
"These airbags have been known to be a risk since 2013, yet the previous Government clearly did not place any importance on keeping New Zealanders safe," said Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi.
Since then, only around 29,000 of the airbags have been replaced.
"The motor vehicle industry has recalled vehicles with the Takata airbags with varying degrees of success but more must be done to ensure that the highest risk Alpha-type airbags are removed from our vehicle fleet."
Former Transport Minister Simon Bridges denies dropping the ball when he was in charge.
"We thought it was best to deal with it systematically and voluntarily - now they're doing it compulsorily, if that's what's the best evidence and advice is telling them to do at the moment, but it certainly wasn't back then," he told Newshub.
"There's always a safety-first approach, but the best evidence and advice was to start voluntarily and ratchet it up systematically, and that's what we've done. I suspect that's why the Government now is in a position of having worked through that."
Around 100 million vehicles worldwide are affected. Faulty Takata airbags have been linked to at least 23 deaths and 230 serious injuries - but none in New Zealand.
"New Zealanders can be assured that this Government is committed to ensuring that these unsafe airbags are removed and replaced as quickly as possible," said Mr Faafoi.
The Motor Industry Association welcomed the recall.
There will be no cost for consumers.